The Benefits Of Laser Therapy For Bone Healing

laser therapy for bone healing treatment for patient at Primal Physical Therapy

Laser therapy is a treatment that involves the use of light-emitting diodes on the body’s surface to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal. There are many different types and uses of Laser Therapy, including applications for dermatological treatments, surgical applications, and musculoskeletal healing/repair. Low-level laser therapy (LLLT)  was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the treatment of bony and soft tissue disorders in 2009 and has been successful in facilitating faster healing of musculoskeletal injuries and conditions such as arthritis and/or fractures since then. 

You should know, there are different classes of laser. These classes are categorized by the amount of power generated by the light source. Earlier research was patchy for some of the less powerful classes of LLLT (3 and 3b), however the Class 4, higher power lasers have been quite beneficial across the board for things like muscle and bone healing. 

Here are a few reasons you may want to look into Class 4 laser therapy for your musculoskeletal needs:

LLLT can enhance callus development 

laser therapy on patient's foot and calf

LLLT is known to have numerous effects on bone structure.

One particular effect that caught the attention of multiple experts is its ability to enhance callus development. But what is callus development? (1) 

To answer that question, it’s best to discuss the steps on how bone heals in the body.

The bone healing process starts immediately after injury, but the actual callus formation begins about one week after you sustain an injury. The body begins by forming a soft type of bone called callus, which fills in the inflamed/injured area of the body.

The callus helps hold the bone together while the healing process continues, although the callus itself is not sturdy enough to resist pressure or tension. This is why injured individuals use casts or limit weight-bearing immediately after an injury — to support the injured area while the body transforms the callus into a new bone. 

Over the next few weeks, the callus starts developing into a stronger bone that can withstand tension. After somewhere between two and eight weeks (depending on the severity and type of fracture), the callus should be strong enough to support gradual weight or pressure. Once this occurs, the patient can now remove the cast and use the previously injured body part at this point.

Under an X-ray, the part of the body where the bone is healing may look uneven. However, over the next few months, your body will automatically start reshaping the injured bone to go back to looking normal. (2)

A 2010 study shows that low-intensity laser therapy can accelerate the bone formation of the callus, from being soft to hard enough to withstand pressure.

This suggests you can accelerate bone healing with laser therapy.  In other words, the fracture healing process, which usually takes anywhere from six to twelve weeks, can be sped up to reduce the overall recovery time of the injury. 

Scientists also correlate this particular effect of laser therapy can come in handy on non-union fractures. With non-Union fractures, the healing process is abnormally slow, sometimes taking years to heal completely. (1)

Laser therapy may eliminate facial fractures and bone defects 

Facial fractures are one of the most common injuries a person can sustain in their lifetime. It may come from sports injuries, accidents, and even assaults. While the face may not require a cast, unlike wounds on the arms or legs, it can drastically reduce the quality of life of an individual. Fortunately, laser therapy has also shown promise regarding its facial bone healing effects. 

In a study consisting of 15 selected subjects, nine improved their facial bone defects after applying laser therapy, specifically, Low-Level Laser Therapy. To be more precise, there was an increase in bone mineral density, showing that the facial fractures healed faster than usual with laser therapy. 

Furthermore, the study showed two other benefits that researchers think would be handy for injuries. (3) 

2. It can promote analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects 

An analgesic is any intervention that relieves pain in the body. An anti-inflammatory is an intervention that reduces inflammation, redness, and swelling. There are corresponding medications for both, however some of these medications can actually impede bone healing, so your doctor (or you) may prefer you avoid these medications while recovering from a bony injury like a fracture or surgery. Examples of these medications include:

  • Aspirin 
  • Celecoxib 
  • COX-2 inhibitors 
  • Ibuprofen 
  • Naproxen (4) 

The good news is that a class 4 laser has both analgesic and anti-inflammatory benefits, without the side effects some medications might have. This not only reduces the need for medications to control pain and swelling but actually facilitates bony healing and regrowth. 

Examples of bony injuries that can benefit from laser include: 

Stress fractures, traumatic fractures, avulsion fractures, chip fractures, and surgeries such as ACL, UCL, or Rotator Cuff surgeries involving graft or tendon fixation into bone. 

3. LLLT enhances osteogenesis and angiogenesis processes

According to a recent study conducted in 2021, laser therapy can potentially enhance the osteogenesis and angiogenesis processes in the body. These two processes make bone healing possible. (5) 

Here’s a look at each process and what it has to do with bone healing:

  • Osteogenesis is the process of creating new materials called osteoblasts that the body will use to form a new bone. It’s also often associated with osteoclasts—the cells that eat up the bone so it can reshape and realign it into more resilient and stronger structures. 
  • Angiogenesis is the creation of new blood vessels that serve as the route for cells like osteoblasts and osteoclasts, and bone tissues to reach the injury site. This process is crucial since adequate blood flow is necessary for bone regeneration. Moreover, complications may occur if there is an insufficient blood supply. (7) 

By using laser therapy to enhance the formation of bone tissues and blood vessels, patients can enjoy a faster, more comfortable recovery using their body’s own processes to do so. 

Wrapping up 

Waiting for a bone injury to heal on it’s own is perhaps one of the most frustrating situations to be in.  Typical bone healing time (without the assistance of a device such as a Class 4 Laser) is among the longest of all musculoskeletal injuries, and many people find the pain and inflammation associated with fractures and other bone injuries to be severely life-limiting throughout the healing process. 

Laser Therapy helps manage the pain and inflammation that makes the injury itself less limiting and facilitates the bony regeneration and tissue remodeling needed to support a faster recovery as well – getting you back to whatever it is you love – sooner. 

If you found this article helpful, or if someone you know has recently suffered an injury that would benefit from better bone healing through laser therapy, share this article with them, and let us know if you have any questions!

References 

  1. “Effect of low-level laser therapy on the fracture healing process”, Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19399356/
  2. “How Broken Bones Heal”, Source: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/fractures-heal.html
  3. “Influence of low-level laser therapy on the healing of human bone maxillofacial defects: A systematic review”, Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S101113441630793X
  4. “Analgesics”, Source: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/21483-analgesics
  1. “Low level laser therapy promotes bone regeneration by coupling angiogenesis and osteogenesis”, Source: https://stemcellres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13287-021-02493-5
  2. “Osteogenesis: The Development of Bones”, Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10056/
  3. “Overview of Angiogenesis”, Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53238/

JJ Thomas, MPT, CMTPT

JJ Thomas is the owner and founder of Primal Physical Therapy, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. She is an instructor for Evidence in Motion, and lectures and speaks nationally on the topics of Dry Needling, Functional Movement Analysis, and Functional Anatomy. She has been published in IJSPT for her contribution to a commentary on dry needling and consults as a content expert for organizations such as the APTA and FSBPT. In this role, she played a large part in the addition of a CPT code for dry needling through the AMA and was on the task force that helped identify competency standards for dry needling education nationally. JJ works with US Field Hockey teams, and individuals from US Lacrosse, US Polo, USA Track and Field, NFL, NBA, PLL, MLB, and more.
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